Yoga, a self-exploratory science of inner discovery and union, serves as a tool to find oneself at balance and whole with the universe. An evolutionary process has led the ancient practices of yoga, originally documented within the Vedas, to the composed and compiled Sutras by the sage Patanjali some 1500 years ago, and eventually to the current incarnation practiced right here at Moksha Yoga Center within Chicago.
Striving for balance, unity, steadiness and ease, a modern yogi may draw inspiration from ancient texts, modern interpretations on said texts, as well as scientific tables, figures and calculations alike. By folding in yogic discipline as well as modern know-how on scientific literature into a contemporary way of living, an individual may find a life well worth living and not one lived in dread.
Food science and nutrition boiled down into an overview of the field is the study of the human organism’s metabolic interplay with food as fuel for the body to move and thrive. Human metabolism down to the cellular level is the array of chemical changes within and without the cell walls from the breakdown of or construction from this organic matter which happens to be food. These chemical changes drive cellular processes like respiration, digestion, and nutrient assimilation.
BKS Iyengar, a world renowned yoga teacher regaled for his alignment teachings on asana, comments on the relationship between digestion and respiration. In the section about food within his book “Light On Pranayama,” Iyengar says “the fire of digestion is lit by the energy that arises from respiration.”
Nutrients in fats, proteins, carbohydrates, vitamins and minerals make up all food in one form or another. For instance, a potato will predominantly be comprised of carbohydrates in the form of starch with vitamins and minerals found within the skin encasing its starchy interior. Beyond the predominant component of starch of the potato lays a small amount of protein and a near negligible amount of fat, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Fats, proteins, and carbohydrates are broken down for their caloric content. Calories can be seen as the potential energy to be released upon their use by burning as fuel. Vitamins and minerals are compounds that aid the cellular processes to completion. A proper and educated planned=out diet consists of a bountiful mixture of food staples to ensure a viable amount of each of these macronutrients as well as vitamins and minerals.
“The body needs food containing the right balance of carbohydrates, proteins, fats, vitamins and mineral salts,” Iyengar said in “Light On Pranayama.” “… Food in the form of nourishment is finally assimilated in various forms throughout the body.”
Each and every individual will have their own needs for their own diet catered to their own life. Not consuming enough food to contribute enough of a certain nutrient will cause a substandard running of cellular operations due to the lack of the proper fuel source. For example, sailors historically were known for having gum issues due to scurvy, a disease resulting from vitamin C deficiency, which a supply of oranges could prevent.
Both diet and yoga can draw the attention from a conscientious mind seeking a multitude of ways to live a more whole life. Both methods consist of intelligently planned out programs with a specific ratio of constituents to make up the whole. Separating each morsel of food can help fill a certain need but without the rest included, the eater is given to malnutrition. A whole mixture from the food spectrum is needed. In the same way, a hodge-podge bunch of mixed yoga practices would not be nearly as effective as a collection of practices combined.
Physiologically, a proper mixture of foods consisting of all the necessary carbohydrates, fats, and proteins would keep the body well fed and tuned up; just as a good balance of forward folds, twisting poses, lateral bends, backbends, balancing postures, and inversions comprise a whole and rounded asana practice. In an auxiliary fashion, vitamins and minerals assist the processes to lead to proper functioning and smooth sailing just like kriyas, bandhas, and drishti are utilized to ensure the proper positioning and function of an asana with their aided implementation.
The experimental approach to finding which foods work for a diet can be compared to the selection of practices that are beneficial to a student’s stage of yoga through use of discernment. For instance, someone may wish to try brussel sprouts and find they are not palatable. They may wish to try brussel sprouts later but not at this given moment. Similarities can be found within a growing personal development of a yoga practice. A student of yoga may find a developing breath practice and try a new technique that is not yet palatable to their breathing repertoire at the given moment. Just like brussel sprouts may not work for the individual at a given moment, an external retention of the breath, for example, may not work for a yoga student at a given time.
Nutritional guidance recommends the eater notes how they feel while they eat, and aims to discover what may cause them to eat beyond a need for nourishment. The idea of an emotional state causing a thought or action mirrors some introspective practices within yoga, specifically observational meditative practices like anapanasati.
Drawing from the ancient texts, Iyengar comments on the nature of food and the self in “Light on Pranayama.” His writing demonstrates wisdom gathered from ancient yoga practitioners alongside an older but still accurate description of our current understanding of the organic cycles of life.
“The Mahanarayanopanisad (79-15) describes food (anna) as the primary requisite without which man cannot develop his anatomical body to the spiritual level. It is stated that the sun radiates heat which evaporates water. The vapour becomes clouds from which rain falls to the earth. Man tills the earth and produces food which, when consumed, creates the energy that maintains vigour. Vigour engenders discipline, which develops the faith that gives knowledge; knowledge bestows learning, which brings composure that creates calmness; calmness establishes equanimity, which develops memory that induces recognition; recognition brings judgement, which leads to the realisation of the self,” Iyengar said.
Western science suggests a perceived separation and hierarchy in the accumulation of knowledge. To some, the view of “hard” sciences rules all others: the physics of the universe can be measured down to the smallest spinning quark, the thermodynamic principles move our universe and have been for the past 13.8 billion years, etc. Some scientific minds need numbers and calculations to justify everything, without ever considering what is apparent on the “gut check” or “felt sense” reality of life.
Not everything may be measurable and easily put down into words, charts, or tables. The separation between those who abide by the hard sciences and those that study the more intuitive sciences of the Vedas causes real harm. Without the realization that both have their merits and may be used alongside each other, the scientific quest for knowledge will forever be stunted by bickering and arguing between two sets of the same knowledge seeking minds.
- Iyengar, BKS. “Food.” Light on Pranayama. 6th ed. New York: Crossroad, 2012. 43-44. Print.
- “Composition of Foods Raw, Processed, Prepared USDA National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference, Release 26.” National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference. Agricultural Research Service United States Department of Agriculture, Aug. 2013. Web. 8 Dec. 2013.